Editor's note: The wise learn from history rather than repeating its mistakes. Thus we begin our New Bay Times year with this best of all cautionary reading, "The Year in Weird 1998." Enjoy, and have a happy new year!
The OIC (Office of Irregular Copy), pursuant to its solemn duty to monitor newspapers in search of the most bizarre and/or disturbing stories of the last 12 months that were underreported in the press, hereby submits its Referral of the Weird. The OIC believes that this Referral contains substantial and credible evidence that the year 1998 should be impeached and replaced immediately by the year 1999.
A Police Officer's Dream Come True
Vincent Morrissey's police brutality lawsuit went to trial in New Haven, Conn., last December, and West Haven police officer Ralph Angelo was on the witness stand, claiming that Morrissey himself had provoked the encounter by swinging at him first. Morrissey's attorney, who was standing near the witness stand and who was skeptical of the testimony, asked Officer Angelo to "demonstrate" just how hard Morrissey had swung at him. Before the lawyer could define "demonstrate," Officer Angelo popped the lawyer on the chin, staggering him and forcing an immediate recess.
A Government Critic's Dream Come True
In May, India's defense minister George Fernandes ordered three bureaucrats from his finance office to spend a week on the notorious Siachen Glacier in Kashmir, where temperatures are usually way below zero, with wind speeds averaging 60mph. Reason: The bureaucrats had taken three years to process the paperwork to procure snowmobiles for the glacier, and the minister said the men needed to understand why they should have worked faster.
The Latest Poop on Trademark Law
John Kricfalusi, creator of TV's "The Ren & Stimpy Show," threatened legal action last December against the producers of the Comedy Central show "South Park" for ripping off a cartoon character. According to Kricfalusi, his character Nutty the Friendly Dump, an animated piece of excrement, must have been the basis for "South Park's" Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo, a holiday-dressed, singing, dancing piece of excrement.
Pocket of Prosperity in Bleak Russia
The Los Angeles Times reported in January on the unusual, sustained success, in turbulent economic times, of the Cat Theater of Moscow, whose 300-seat shows remain sold out weeks in advance. Despite conventional wisdom that cats are untrainable, proprietor Yuri Kuklachev has them climbing poles, walking tightropes, pushing toy trains, leapfrogging over human backs and balancing atop tiny platforms.
Why the Crime Rate's Headed Down (1)
In February, authorities had a drug house in the northwest Florida town of Callaway under surveillance, and when four men emerged and drove off in a rental car, deputies decided to stop them and make the arrests. Several squad cars surrounded the rental car, and by the time officers went to open the door, the four men were conveniently covered in white powder. A bag of cocaine they had hidden under the hood had been sliced open by the air-conditioner fan blade.
In February, Cambridge (England) University researcher Fiona Hunter, who studied penguins' mating habits for five years, reported that some females apparently allow male strangers to mate with them in exchange for a few nest-building stones, thus providing what Hunter believes is the first observed animal prostitution. According to Dr. Hunter, all activity was done behind the back of the female's regular mate, and in a few instances, after the sex act, johns gave the females additional stones as sort of a tip.
Strongest Evidence That God Exists
In June, Rev. Pat Robertson warned the city of Orlando, Fla. (which was sponsoring the local Gay Days festival), that the city was "right in the way of some serious hurricanes," and that "I don't think I'd be waving those (Gay Days logo) flags in God's face if I were you." Two months later, the season's first hurricane to hit land, Bonnie, missed Florida but raked the Carolina coast up through Virginia Beach, Va., the home of the Christian Broadcasting Network (Pat Robertson, proprietor).
In March, a Hamilton, Ontario, hospital settled the $1.7 million lawsuit brought by Lesli Szabo for not making her 1993 childbirth pain-free. Physicians said that painless childbirth cannot be achieved without the anesthesia's endangering the child, but Szabo said she expected to be comfortable enough to be able to read or knit while the child was being delivered.
Crime With a Low Probability of Success
According to authorities at the Hampton, Va., jail in March, a civilian attendant from the jail's canteen was pushing a cart full of snacks past the locked cell of Anthony Tyrone Darden, 21, when Darden reached through the bars, hit the man on the head with a broom handle and took two packs of peanut butter crackers. Darden was apprehended.
Pre-Millennial Shirley Sightings
On the day before Good Friday, reported the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Ernesto A. Moshe Montgomery consecrated the Shrine of the Weeping Shirley MacLaine in a room in his Beta (NOTE: NOT Beth) Israel Temple in Los Angeles. Inspired by an image he said he had while riding in the actress's private jet, Montgomery said a subsequent, large photograph of him with MacLaine was "observed shedding tears," which had inspired prayers and testimony of miraculous healings.
And Hawaii Republican Crystal Young, 57, who beat eight challengers in the primary before losing to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye in November, explained during the campaign why she has to rely on Social Security disability payments as her primary source of income: She is in too much pain to work because of the electromagnetic needles implanted in her body by, of course, Shirley MacLaine.
Quality Time Is Not All It's Cracked Up
A police report in the Martinez (Calif.) Record on April 9 described a one-car accident in town. According to police, a man was playing "What's That Color?" with his young son while driving and held his breath to make his face red. However, he held his breath too long and passed out, and the car ran off the road. Neither he nor his son required medical attention.
Rhythm of the Falling Rain
In Phoenix in March, a defiant James Joseph Zanzot, 37, was ordered to prison for four years for repeatedly video- and audiotaping women in restrooms. Zanzot called the sentence "unjust," asserting a now-familiar claim that his behavior was only "immoral" and "repulsive," not "illegal." Zanzot pointed out that state law prohibits only intercepting "oral communication" and that he was not interested in the conversation but only in the sound of urination.
Passing of a Legend
Rev. John Wayne "Punkin" Brown Jr., 34, died on Oct. 3 of a rattlesnake bite while ministering at the Rock House Holiness Church in northeast Alabama near Scottsboro. In a landmark book on snake-handling preachers in the South (Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington), Brown was called the "mad monk," the one most "mired in the blood lust of the patriarchs." His wife, Melinda, had met the same fate three years earlier at a church in Middlesboro, Ky., and relatives are divided whether to permit the Browns' three children to carry on the legacy.
Why the Crime Rate's Headed Down (2)
Ronnie Darnell Bell, 30, was arrested in Dallas in February and charged with attempting to rob the Federal Reserve Bank. (In the movie Die Hard With a Vengeance, knocking off the New York FRB required a small army of men and truckloads of weapons.) According to police, Bell was initially confused because there are no tellers, so he handed a security guard his note, reading: "This is a bank robbery of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, of Dallas, Texas, give me all the money. Thank you, Ronnie Darnell Bell." The guard pushed a silent alarm while an oblivious Bell chatted amiably, revealing to the guard that only minutes earlier he had tried to rob a nearby Postal Service facility but that "they threw me out."
In March, San Francisco sculptor Joe Mangrum, sitting on $1,480 worth of outstanding parking tickets accumulated by his 1986 Mazda, persuaded the city Art Commission (which was not aware of the tickets) to let him disassemble the car into a pile in the middle of Justin Herman Plaza and call the sculpture "Transmission 98," for which he collected a $2,000 artist's fee from the city.
Where Chichi Anorexics Eat
Cafe Ke'ilu ("Cafe Make Believe") opened in a trendy section of Tel Aviv in April, with tables, chairs, plates, silverware, menus and servers, but no food or drink. Explained manager Nir Caspi (who calls the experience "conceptual dining"), people come to be seen and to meet people but not for the actual food. The menu, designed by top-rated chef (and owner) Phillipe Kaufman, lets diners order some of the world's most exquisite dishes (eel mousse, salad of pomegranates, if in season), "served" on elegant (but empty) platters.
Another Reason Not to Be Nostalgic for the
The Department of Energy announced in May, after reviewing project records from the 1950s, that some inspectors at a uranium processing plant near Cincinnati used the somewhat-unscientific method of measuring the substance's metallic strength by sprinkling some on their tongues to see if it tasted right. The inspectors feared that if they did not submit high-enough-grade samples, the government would regard their uranium as useless and shut down the plant.
Litigious Society, Unabated
In April, the Los Angeles City Council agreed to pay $9 million to five surviving victims of a drunk driver whose car wandered across a center line and hit the van in which they were riding, unbuckled. A court in 1997 had awarded the victims $29 million and said the city had to pay 57 percent of that because the yellow line in the center of the road was too dim.
Human Rights Violation in the Former Soviet
In August, Ukrainian Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko began a crackdown on tax delinquents to collect the $3.5 billion the government is owed. The centerpiece of the campaign is to call the top 1,500 tax scofflaws, mostly business executives, to a military base near Kiev, to live for an undetermined time in tents, to listen to lectures on civil defense preparedness for natural disasters, until apparently out of sheer boredom they decide to pay up.
In August, Deborah Gaines, 31, filed a lawsuit against the Brookline, Mass., abortion clinic shot up by John Salvi in 1994, asking it to pay the cost of raising her kid, now age 3. She was queuing up for an abortion that day when Salvi started firing and said she was so traumatized that she could not bring herself to go to another clinic, and eight months later, little Vivian was born. Gaines said she loves her daughter, but that her daughter shouldn't be here.
And Perrier and Bowls of Red M&Ms
When authorities raided a cockfighting operation near Gadsden, Ala., in July, they found not only a restaurant and 250-seat theater for patrons, but two air-conditioned trailers in which the roosters hung out before their matches, one of which featured piped-in country music.
Vocational Rehab in Brooklyn
In July, a federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., rejected a prosecutor's request to stop Latin Kings gang leader Antonio Fernandez from selling Amway products. Fernandez, out on bail on drug charges, is restricted to his home, and the prosecutor believes a sales route would allow him to conduct Latin Kings business. On the other hand, Fernandez's lawyer said the Amway business was an encouraging sign and might lead other gang members into Tupperware or Mary Kay.
More Evidence Cockfighting Is the Sport
of the Year
In February, the kinder, gentler Hawaii House Agriculture Committee approved a bill to legalize cockfighting, provided the roosters wear tiny padded gloves on their feet instead of the traditional metal leg spurs.
And cockfighting was banned by referendum in Arizona in November but not without a battle led by actor Wilford Brimley, who said he used to drive regularly across the border from his Utah home to watch matches. Said Brimley, of the roosters, "They're magnificent. It's always thrilling to watch."
In August, lobbyists in Bonn, Germany, called the Working Group for the Unemployed, held a series of rallies to demand six weeks' annual paid vacation for people out of work, pointing out that those looking for work often are under greater stress than those with jobs and thus need a longer holiday.
If the Dogs Growl, the Neighbors Howl
In August, residents of a West Hartford, Conn., neighborhood handed the renowned Johnnie Cochran a stunning defeat. Cochran, defending two Rottweilers accused of barking too much, failed to persuade a judge to lift a 9pm outdoor curfew on the dogs, which belong to his friend Flora Allen (mother of basketball player and actor Ray Allen).
The Year's Most X-Filesish Advance
According to a Times of London report in October, 45 people (celebrities and prominent executives) have had low-power microchips surgically implanted in their bodies in order to make it easier for police to track them by global satellite in the event they are kidnapped. The Sky-Eye chip, made by the Gen-Etics company, consists of organic and synthetic fibers that are powered by the body's own neurophysiological energy.
The Classic Middle Name (a yearly update)
Executed for murder in 1998: Dennis Wayne Eaton (Virginia). Found guilty of murder: Bobby Wayne Woods (Texas), Coy Wayne Wesbrook (Texas). Charged with murder: Monty Wayne Lamb (Texas), Morris Wayne Givens (Alabama), Michael Wayne Hall (Texas), Michael Wayne Gallatin (Washington), John Wayne Stockdall (Missouri). Accused of murder and still on the lam: Jason Wayne McVean (Colorado). Died while under suspicion for murder: Donald Wayne Martin (Texas), Robert Wayne Shelton (Missouri).
Weird News That Writes Itself
Distrust of modern medicine has led to the increasing popularity of therapeutic self-trepanation (drilling a hole in the head to "unseal" the skull), according to a June Chicago Tribune story. Trepanation activist Peter Halvorson recalled that drilling into his own skull 25 years ago ("Smoke was coming out of the hole," he said) brought him "a heightened, childlike sense of awareness" and a permanent state of higher consciousness. Neurosurgeons contacted by the Tribune used words like "amazed" and "stunned" at the craze, but according to the report, trepanists are so confident about what they do that criticism just doesn't sink in.
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